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Thursday, November 4, 2021

How can a poem have texture?


When I think of texture, I think of cable-knit wool sweaters, beach sand, seashells, pine needles, corduroy – all touchable and recognizable by our fingertips. Obviously, we can’t do that with poetry, so how can we give our poems texture?

A definition might help. According to poets who know about such matters, texture can include figurative language (metaphor, simile, etc.) and rhyme or rhythm (musicality.)

To give you an example, let’s look at the well-textured opening of this famous poem that most of us studied in high school but didn’t have a clue about what it mean until now:

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

by T. S. ELIOT


Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table;

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

The muttering retreats

Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:

Streets that follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent….

Read that verse aloud to get the full impact of its texture and beauty. Then read aloud this bare-bones version, picked clean of the good stuff:

Let us go,        

When evening is spread against sky

Like a patient on a table;

Let us go, through streets,

The retreats

Of nights in hotels

And restaurants:


Of intent….

See? Hear? Poems need more than flat sentences and totally understandable statements. They need texture – something to alert or even disturb the wandering mind.

This week, I’ve been reading a wonderful book, Painting Abstracts, by Rolina van Vliet. She talks about visual art, of course, but her definition, “What is texture?” helped me to understand more in relation to poetry:

By texture we mean all the effects which disturb and penetrate the smooth… surface. It is the varied layers we use to construct our work…. It is how we vary the surface area using irregularities, emphases, rhythms, height, differences or roughness. Texture is a very strong artistic element….”

The author-artist goes on to list some of the things texture can accomplish:

  • activates imagination, creativity and expression
  • initiates experimentation and discovery
  • stimulates the discovery of one’s own imagery, our artistic vocabulary
  • lead to unexpected, interesting and surprising effects
  • ensures variation, contrast, emphasis and dynamics

and more – always more as you revise your poems, play with lines, and experiment with the sounds and meanings of words.


©2021, Mary Sayler, poet-writer










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